UPDATE: Tren Long missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Canoe and Kayak team as an alternate, but he did qualify for the National team and will represent the U.S. at World Cup events this summer.
An Idahoan is gunning for the chance to represent Team USA at this year’s summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Tren Long of Horseshoe Bend has been a competitive slalom kayaker since he was a kid. His family is somewhat of a whitewater dynasty in Idaho; they're the owners of Cascade Raft and Kayak on the Payette River north of Boise.
Unlike the kind of whitewater kayaking you see on the Payette, slalom kayaking is the discipline where boaters navigate a series of gates as quickly and cleanly as possible. The margins between racers are in the tenths, or even hundredths, of seconds, Long says. Long was 16 the last time he made a go for the U.S. Olympic team.
"When I retired from slalom racing, I got really fat," Long laughs. "I got married, weighed like 250 lbs. And I wasn’t doing anything."
Long got back into shape doing jujitsu and mixed martial arts. (He jokes that he's probably the only slalom kayaker in the mix this year who's been in a cage fight.)
His competitive spirit re-ignited in earnest three years ago when he and his two brothers -- also competitive slalom paddlers -- decided to get back into the racing circuit. The three men started training together. Today, Tren Long is the only one left in the running for a chance to represent his country at the Olympic Games.
Long will take his last four slalom runs as a candidate for the U.S. Olympic team this weekend, May 7 and 8, at the final qualifier in Oklahoma City.
"So the way that the weekend works is on Friday afternoon, they’ll set the course. We don’t have any idea what the course is."
Racers will get to watch a set of demo paddlers run the course, but they won't get to try out the course for themselves before the real deal.
"On Saturday, your first time down the course is your first run, which counts."
Long says the course in Oklahoma City plays to his experience kayaking the big-water rivers of Idaho. He anticipates a strong finish.
The father of three in his mid-30s says making it this far after taking so many years off from the sport has been hugely rewarding.
"You know the one thing I think that I have learned, at least for me in this journey, is the concept of dedication and work. When I came back, I was terrible ... The sport had changed while I was gone," he says.
Long concedes that his odds are ... well, long ... for the Olympics this year. A 26-year-old paddler from Pennsylvania, Casey Eichfeld, is a near certainty to represent Team USA in Rio in Long's event: C-1.
"We’re gunning for the alternate spot here and then looking to the horizon line saying, ‘I’ve come this far in three years, I can’t wait to see how far I can go in the next three.’"
Long has already had "the talk" many Olympic hopefuls have with their spouses and families. He says they're committed to training through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
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